Photo courtesy SF Rec & Park Dept via Twitter
The city of San Francisco celebrated the reopening of Chinatown’s only playground Friday.
The renovated Willie Woo Woo Wong Playground is named after a 5’5″ basketball player who in 1950 became the first Chinese American to ever play at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
Wong played for the University of San Francisco Dons under legendary coach Pete Newell in the National Invitational Tournament. Back then the NIT carried more prestige than the NCAA Tourney.
The University inducted him into its Hall of Fame posthumously in 2007 after he died at the age of 79 from leukemia.
Wong made the then Chinese Playground his second home. He played basketball for the St. Mary’s Saints and honed his craft at the playground.
The city renamed the Chinese playground in Wong’s honor in 2012.
“I am so excited to open this playground and beautiful community space in Chinatown just in time for Lunar New Year,” said Mayor Breed. “Willie “Woo Woo” Wong Playground has been reimagined as a creative, accessible place for children, seniors, and everyone in between to connect and play. Parks and playgrounds make cities livable, particularly in dense areas, and investing in neighborhood spaces and projects like this are critical for San Francisco’s wellbeing and our recovery.”
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the renovation cost $15 million after a two year closure.
Wong earned his nickname because his play excited fans so much they screamed his Chinese name after every sensational play he made, “Woo, Woo!” A sportswriter heard the screams and nicknamed him “Woo Woo” and the name stuck.
“This is a big day for the Chinatown community,” Sarah Wan, executive director of the Community Youth Center said to the Chronicle. The CYC will occupy the offices in the playground’s clubhouse when it opens next month. “We’re excited to provide a safe and stable learning space to youth in Chinatown who need it the most.”
The family of Wong has loaned Wong’s many trophies for display at the clubhouse, along with the trophies of his sister, Helen. The late Helen Wong Lum made her name in both basketball and tennis, representing the United States in the senior division of the Davis Cup and winning the championship.
She is an inductee in both the Northern California Tennis Hall of Fame and the San Francisco Prep Hall of Fame. Like her brother, she also honed her craft at the playground and played for St. Mary’s Grammar School during her youth.
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